Last week, while commuting to a course I teach at Philadelphia's University of the Arts, the bus I was on got stuck in a snails-pace traffic jam on the New Jersey Turnpike. After thirty minutes, we came upon the cause of the snarl, a dump truck loaded with scrap metal which had overturned on the opposite side of the highway. Despite some rather scary looking piles of twisted steel, no one appeared to be injured. The debris and the people dealing with it were all on the other side of the road. The only things slowing us down were those moronic drivers who had to stop and gawk. One of my fellow bus passengers grumbled, "Hell, there isn't any blood over there. Why bother slowing down?"
Perhaps it is in our human nature to crave a look at disaster, so long as it is someone else's. That certainly explains why the media continues to focus on the spectacular public implosion of Charlie Sheen, even though many, including myself, have long since stopped giving a rat's extremity about this superannuated Brat Pack wanna-be (I am old enough to point out that his far more talented and attractive brother Emilio was a legitimate Pack member, and had the good sense to grow up.) This morning, the network news shows put off reporting on such trifles as our two wars in the Mideast or the deadly rebellion in Libya, and instead lead off with footage of Sheen looking like an embattled dictator facing rebellion as he wildly waved a machete on the roof of a Los Angeles hotel and vowed vengeance on the studio executives who just (and justly) fired him from his obscenely overpaid role on Two and a Half Men. It seems that, no matter how low this pathetic man goes, the media (and a depressingly large percentage of the public) will remain glued to his every misstep, nurturing the hope that they will get be watching live when Sheen's boundless megalomania comes to some kind of a bloody climax.
This obsession with rubbernecking would explains why people continue to fork over small fortunes to see Spiderman Turn Off the Dark. Aside from having a hilariously clunky title, this so-called musical has left two cast members seriously injured, over a hundred thousand ticket buyers poorly entertained, and every critic in New York howling that the show is a disaster. The New York Times (which has a sad propensity of late to praise ghastly musicals) went so far as to describe Spiderman as "one of the worst musicals in history." Now, word has it that the show's producers are planning more rewrites, necessitating yet another postponement of their frequently delayed opening night. Despite all this, according to Playbill.com, Spiderman filled 85% of its seats last week, pulling in a whopping $1.28 million at the box office, a figure only outdone by one Broadway competitor, the long-running Wicked.
At this point, no one can seriously claim that they are attending Spiderman in hopes of seeing a good show, or even a passable "work in progress." Millions of people who routinely ignore Broadway are now quite aware that this so-called show is a $65 million (and by now that official figure must have ballooned to one far higher) mega-flop. So I suggest the press stop referring to anyone attending Spiderman as "theatre-goers." Call them what they are -- rubberneckers, dimwitted thrill-seekers hoping to witness the next bloody accident. Its not about the story or even about the songs; its about watching a disaster in the making, with the added forbidden hope that one may get to see another performer meet a painful, perhaps even blood-soaked fate.
Considering the number of people who are currently making a living by providing coverage of the devolution of Charlie Sheen, I daresay the producers of Spiderman may find enough paying rubberneckers dumb enough to cover at least part of their ill-advised investment.